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Back pay dispute with Spain, UK takes centre stage at forum Tuesday

Thursday, February 22, 2018

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THE National Council on Reparations and the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute are expected to jointly host a public forum on 'Back Pay Dispute: Reparation and the outstanding labour struggle with Britain and Spain' Tuesday at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Regional Headquarters, Mona.

The forum, which is part of the celebration of Black History Month, is set for 4:30 pm.

A release from UWI Open Campus said Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange is expected to provide the overview for the forum, while Labour and Social Security Minister Shahine Robinson is expected to bring greetings on behalf of her ministry.

A field of top experts drawn from academia, the trade union movement and civil society will discuss the theme at the forum, the release said.

Panellists will include Professor Verene Shepherd, co-chair of the National Council on Reparations (NCR) and one of the Caribbean's leading advocate in the reparation movement; Helene Davis-Whyte, president of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions; Steven Golding, president of the Universal Negro Improvement Association; and Dr Dave Gosse, senior lecturer, Institute of Caribbean Studies & Reggae Studies Unit, at the UWI Mona Campus.

According to the release, Professor Shepherd said that the role of labour in the struggle for reparation is particularly crucial, as the “reparation struggle must focus on workers' rights in the context of a labour dispute over wages”.

She noted that the legacy of enslavement has to be addressed in terms of the pain and suffering endured by our foreparents, and the compensation due for the labour provided.

Professor Shepherd noted: “Slavery was wrong and there can be no justification for forcing people to work without compensation. We therefore have to examine the typical pay for workers in Britain to begin to quantify what is owing.”

She added that studies have been done which proposed a method for calculating the minimum monetary sum owed to the descendants of the slave trade.

In the meantime, head of the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute Danny Roberts, who also serves on the NCR, said that “Africans were forced into a contractual relationship on the plantation”.

According to the release, he argued that “the sugar planters needed a form of legal relationship to govern the large-scale employment on the estates, and that slaves needed to work for set hours per day, and governed by strict discipline during and even outside of working hours”.

“What is missing from this time service contract was the monetary payment which was due to those who provided labour on the plantation,” Roberts said.

The mandate of the National Council on Reparations includes guiding the Government of Jamaica as it prepares to action the motion in Parliament to press the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for reparation for African enslavement and colonialism, and to work with regional reparation organisations in order to help to shape the regional demand for reparations.

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